Fake news: A real problem


Is mass ignorance better than knowing half-truths, or being misinformed? Is removing infringing speech the only way to tackle the issue? Dibyojyoti Mainak provides some insights

The issue of fake news has dominated news cycles of major democracies in the past few years. It is interesting to note that while attempts at criminalizing false information have been made by governments across the world including the US and Canada, they have been struck down for excessively curbing free speech in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Antigua and Barbados, in addition to the US and Canada.

So far it appears that court-based approaches to reining in fake news are at best inadequate. Recently, India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting first released, and then quickly withdrew, guidelines governing the accreditation of journalists in an attempt to control the menace of fake news. These guidelines, however, would do little to punish websites like Postcard News, whose founder was arrested for inciting violence, but would suspend accreditation for practising journalists on mere accusations of fake news.

Dibyojyoti Mainak

There are compelling arguments on how these laws can have a chilling effect on the ideal of free speech, and can also lead to self-censorship. Legitimate concerns exist of excessive state paternalism and the subsequent effects on the flow of information (it is hard to define concepts like “facts” and “truth” in the context of criminal law).

For example, it would probably be unfair to restrain activists from reporting that a certain nuclear plant is endangering the lives of millions in a neighbouring settlement merely because such endangerment of millions cannot be scientifically established before a court of law. The final issue with regulation of so-called “fake news” is the biases of the regulator in question, and the possibility of partisan politics being the guiding principle behind censuring news and social media items.

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DIBYOJYOTI MAINAK is general counsel at InShorts news app